Linebacker Jabrill Peppers makes a catch as he runs a drill at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy / AP)
Jabrill Peppers is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft, which starts Thursday. At least, Peppers was thought to go that early, but Monday brought a double-shot of bad news that may result in some NFL teams passing on the Michigan star.
First, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Peppers was flagged for a diluted urine sample, after he took his drug test at February’s NFL combine. That is tantamount to a failed drug test, and it could have some teams questioning his maturity and decision-making, if not his off-field proclivities.
"Peppers went to the combine. He was sick after flying there from San Diego. He has a history of cramping," a spokesman for Creative Artists Agency, which represents Peppers, told Schefter. "Peppers was being pumped with fluids, drinking eight to 10 bottles of water before he went to bed, because he was the first guy to work out two days for the [linebackers] and [defensive backs]. He had to go through that first day, come back on second day, and that was the fear.
"So Peppers was pounding water and under the weather. He never failed a drug test in his life, nor tested positive before for any substance."
Schefter, who probably shouldn’t expect a Christmas card from Peppers, subsequently reported (via Pro Football Talk) that some NFL teams were already dinging the versatile athlete for sitting out the Wolverines’ bowl game, a 33-32 loss to Florida State in December’s Orange Bowl. Schefter had reported at the time that Peppers tried to practice with a hamstring strain but ultimately decided, shortly before the game began, that the injury was too severe.
Other college standouts, such as Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, also skipped their teams’ respective bowl games, but they had announced their intentions to do so well ahead of time. According to Schefter, some NFL executives don’t like that Peppers’s decision came at the last moment, and they have downgraded him on their draft boards.
Add it up, and Peppers could be waiting to hear his name called much longer than he thought he would. Teams, always on the lookout for what they perceive to be character flaws, will have to weigh Monday’s reports against his considerable talent.
A New Jersey native, Peppers went to Michigan out of admiration for former Wolverines star Charles Woodson, and he nearly equaled the latter’s achievement of becoming the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. A linebacker and safety for the Wolverines, plus an occasional running back, Peppers also excelled as a kick returner, and he promises to provide unusual playmaking ability as a professional.
Despite the diluted sample, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Monday (via MLive.com), "I’d be surprised if he got out of the first round." Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, who was sent home from the combine after getting into a physical altercation with a medical staffer, failed his drug test in the same manner, and he is still widely expected to be a first-round pick.
"You have to look at it, and every team is going to evaluate it," Kiper said of Peppers. "You hear what his side says about what the reason was that happened — you’ve heard the same thing from Foster’s camp. You’ve got to look at it and evaluate it, and I think they made the point he’s never had any issues before."
Kiper said that teams picking in the top 10 may well have eliminated Peppers from consideration for those selections, but he added, "I’m sure there’s some teams in the late first round that didn’t think they’d see him there that may see him still on the board at that point."
Joe Thomas, an all-pro offensive tackle for the Browns who played college ball at Wisconsin, posted a number of tweets Monday arguing that players who test positive for a diluted sample should be tested again until they provide a sample that can properly be tested for evidence of drug use. "Tester should be able to see it’s dilute right when he receives sample and can then request more samples until it’s not dilute," Thomas said on Twitter.
"No player should ever have a ‘failed test’ for a dilute sample. Especially at the combine where players frequently chug water to gain weight," Thomas continued. He noted that players could be "chugging water to hydrate for a day of grueling physical testing. Lack of hydration leads to a significant decrease in performance."
Foster reportedly told teams that his diluted sample was the result of a frantic attempt to counteract dehydration before the combine after he came down with what he thought was food poisoning. Both Peppers and Foster are set to begin their NFL careers in the league’s drug program; they will be discharged after 180 days if they cooperate with guidelines and have no further violations in that time.
Tribune reporter Brad Biggs provides his updated mock draft projections as of April 21, 2017.